The dark of night, and Stephen Benright was in trouble. He was stopped at a police road-block – there was a local escaped “loony” on the prowl – but managed to convince the officers that it was only a sack of potatoes on the back seat. Before he could dispose of it over the edge of a cliff, however, other more suspicious policemen arrived and he had to admit the truth. It was a dead body he was trying to get rid off.
Benright’s story was that he had found the body lying dead on his bed and, fearing he would be implicated, decided to dispose of the body. Soon the police are escorting him back to his house to look for evidence. There’s certainly something suspicious about the bedroom in question. For a start, there’s another dead body on the bed now…
Oh, Cecil M Wills. I was convinced that you were going to be my next obsession. I’d track down some more of your books, I’d start nagging Dean Street Press, I’d track down the rights-holders and persuade them to let your work see the light of day. Midsummer Murder was so good – not The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye good, but still, really good – and, given Martin Edwards recommending the author to me, things were looking good. And then I read this one.
I think I can sum up the problem with this book – the title. The Empty Beehive in question belongs to one of the suspects, as the police receive a tip-off that an important missing ledger is to be found in the aforementioned empty beehive. That’s it. But apart from the appearance of the second body, that’s the most interesting bit of the book. And it’s not even that interesting.
It’s just crashingly dull. There’s a bright spark when the sleuth, private investigator Sylvester Pinkney, arrives, as he seems interestingly quirky, but Wills plays him very straight, only occasionally remembering to play him as inexperienced in some aspects of the world. Oh, and the book fails the Bechdel test by not even having two female characters. It’s all police, Pinkney and suspects, all of who are involved in some remarkably boring IOU scheme.
It also uses one of my least favourite mystery tropes, one that I can’t name as it is definitely a spoiler, but to give Wills a smattering of credit, at least there is for once a half-decent reason for it. So that’s something.
I don’t think I’ve read something as dull and workmanlike since Crofts’ The Pit-Prop Syndicate. I do have a couple other Wills titles and I’m not going to write him off on the strength of one bad book (I’m not Barzun and/or Taylor) but this was a real disappointment.